Sick Kids And School: A Working Mom’s Dilemma

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Normally, I try to keep my home life and my professional life separate. I drop my daughter off at daycare, then I go to work and do my job. It’s a pretty basic set-up. Unless my daughter gets sick, and then my basic set-up becomes a big ol’ mess.

My company has a decent vacation and sick leave policy. They aren’t monsters who refuse to ever grant a day off or make me feel guilty about taking care of my child. In fact, as a family-owned business, they often remind their working parents, “Hey, family comes first.” But even with a couple weeks of sick days and an extremely understanding set of bosses, I still have my days when there are a million things to do, two people are already on vacation, I have projects that have to be completed… and my child gets a temperature. Not an insanely high temperature, not a temperature and a sore throat or runny nose, no nausea or upset stomach… just a stupid 100 degree temperature. There’s no way to win on these days.

I spent my childhood with a wonderful woman who teaches elementary school. I have heard the stories of kids coming to school sick and miserable, infecting every child they see and falling asleep on their art projects. I realize that a trip to the school nurse is not the same thing as a trip to the doctor. I know that it’s unfair to every other child in that classroom to send my daughter to school or daycare when she’s ill. Really, I know. I promise, every time I consider sending my daughter to school with a runny nose, I feel the type of guilt that I would imagine comes with committing a crime.

But sometimes, in my weakest hour (which happens at roughly 5:30am every morning), I throw caution and guilt to the wind and I send my little one to school anyways. I know that I’m taking the chance of having an uncomfortable conversation at pick-up to “keep an eye on Brenna” because she might be coming down with something. That’s code for, “You already know this, but your child should have stayed home today.” Thankfully I’ve only had to endure that awkwardness once or twice. Normally, that early morning cough clears right up or that low-grade fever evens out the minute my daughter gets up and starts moving around. At 6am though, there was just no way to know how the day would play out.

Of course there are days when the illness isn’t in question and on those days, you have to suck it up and stay home. Days when the fever doesn’t go down with the first dose of Tylenol or that pesky runny nose turns marginally disgusting. Those days, work has to be put on the back-burner or you have to have a support system in place. During the first ninety days of her new job, a friend of mine counted on her parents to take time off work when her little one got sick. I’m lucky enough to have a retired mother-in-law who graciously steps in if my job is too hectic to miss. And on those terrible, nothing-could-possibly-go-right days when there’s no one to turn to and no way to stay home from work, I’m lucky enough to be able to bring my daughter in to the office for a couple hours. I’ve only taken advantage of this situation once, though it was ten times easier than I imagined it to be. A portable DVD player, bag of goldfish crackers and a couple Barbies bought me two hours of peace and quiet in which to complete my necessary tasks for the day.

Sometimes, when your child is sick, there’s no easy solution. Every time that daily routine gets off-balance, one side of the scale gets neglected and there’s nothing you can do about it. I could say that you shouldn’t feel guilty for these days, but I don’t suppose it would help at all. Sick days are just one of those work-life crossovers that muck up the waters for working moms. The best thing to do is invest in some Vitamin C and pray that the flu bug passes you by. In the end, hopefully your company agrees that family comes first.